Guild Wars 2 sports plenty of clever modifications and changes to the typical MMO formula (which you can read about in our last Guild Wars 2 preview) - but none have us as optimistic as the leaps ArenaNet has taken towards fixing the biggest problem with massively multiplayer online RPGs: playing with your friends. Since the genre first began, one of the most difficult things to do was to jump in and quest with your buddies. Insane, isn’t it? Rampaging around a virtual world with some friends should be the cornerstone of the experience, but too often developers model these massive worlds, fill them with cool stuff to do, and then throw up barriers to make it damn near impossible to actually do them with people you know.
Different faction? Can’t play with your friends. Different server? Can’t play with your friends. Different level? Same class? Super hard to play with your friends. Different part of the same quest line? Yeah, can't play with your friends. Your best bet is to plan out everything before the game comes out, and hope that you and your friends have identical schedules so that you’re able to level up together every step of the way.
The reason Guild Wars 2 is so exciting is because it demolishes all of the barriers between you and your friends. Few of the mechanics it employs to solve this issue are all that unique, and most exist in other games, but Guild Wars 2 is the first to launch with all of them on day one, which is actually when it’s most important.
The first and simplest way this is accomplished is with an abolishment of the traditional faction system. You’re not forced at the beginning of the game to choose which side you’re on, since every playable race is fighting in the same direction. This has been done before in plenty of other games, like Lord of the Rings: Online and TERA, but it’s a vital ingredient and part of a much bigger picture. Also equally important is the class system, which eliminates the traditional holy trinity of healer, DPS, and tank. There are still DPS-y classes, tank-y classes, and heal-y classes, but they’re less important in the grand scheme of things. Being able resurrect friends regardless of class (and being able to resurrect yourself by taking down an enemy when you’re in the downed state) makes it so groups of just about any configuration should work.
Also making it easier to play with friends is the ability to switch between servers easily. Changing servers, usually, is a pain if it’s available at all. Some games (like Rift) have streamlined this process, while others charge real money for the “service” of allowing players to take their megabytes from one server partition to another. It’s insane, and Guild Wars 2 does away with it almost entirely. There are still servers, and you still have your “home” server where you hang up your hat for PvP and guild purposes - but you’re able to switch between servers whenever you want, visiting and questing with friends without an issue. You don't need to actually "change" servers, you can just visit them.
And it doesn’t matter what level your friends are, either. Similar to EverQuest II’s Mentoring system, players can group up with lower-level friends without any penalties. The game simply adjusts the higher-level player’s stats appropriately, allowing them to fight below their level without losing out on the fun. They’ll still be slightly more powerful, with their high-level spells and abilities, but they’ll be experiencing the same level of challenge as their lower-level counterparts.
Even the game’s quest system features unique elements that make it easier to jump in with friends. Typically, quests in MMOs are unlocked in steps and attached to chains, and you’re unable to actually get credit for a quest unless you’re on the same exact step. Guild Wars 2’s quests are usually more open, and while there are still some that follow the traditional step-by-step system, a majority are more akin to public quests found in Rift and Warhammer Online, and available for everyone to jump in together. See a group of centaurs running towards a building and trying to destroy it? You don't need to go find the person asking you to stop them or make sure you have the right quest. Just stop them! That's how it should work, right?
There’s a chance this might not make that big of a difference or - worse - it could unbalance the game in some way. But yet, despite the risk, it’s the feature that has us most excited to play Guild Wars 2 when it launches next month. The idea that we’ll be able to effortlessly play with literally anyone else who is playing, without making new characters or needing to grind to catch up, is remarkably appealing, and should make Guild Wars 2 the most social multiplayer MMO yet. That’s something worth getting totally, incredibly hyped for.
Oh, and there's no monthly charge. That's cool, too.